A popular question that we often get asked and I’m afraid the answer isn’t a simple one. The truth is, the UK probably could reach its climate targets without wind power but it would come at a higher financial and environmental cost. It would also take a lot longer.
In 2008, the UK Government passed the Climate Change Act which set legally binding targets to tackle the dangers of climate change. The long-term target is for an 80% CO2 reduction by 2050.
The independent Committee on Climate Change has found that ‘onshore wind is likely to be one of the cheapest low-carbon options.’ (see page 25 here.)
Renewables aside, alternative low carbon options are nuclear and carbon capture and storage (CCS). CCS is where CO2 from large sources like fossil fuel power plants is captured, removed and safely stored where it will not enter the atmosphere (often deep underground in depleted oil and gas reservoirs offshore). This is new technology, as yet unproven – and costly – at the industrial scale.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has outlined its most cost effective scenario for reaching the target of an 80% cut in emissions by 2050. This combines the use of nuclear, renewable energy and CCS.
There is a risk with this scenario that nuclear and CCS won’t deliver as expected. What happens if this is the case? The good news is that it’s still possible to meet the target but it would, of course, mean greater reliance on renewables. Have a look at DECC’s renewable energy road map for a bit more detail.
Friends of the Earth has also created a scenario that doesn’t rely on nuclear or CCS, see it here. This relies more on energy savings and renewables – but not on biomass imports for burning in power stations. So it’s a realistic and green scenario from our point of view.
So, whilst it might be possible to meet our carbon targets without wind power, it features strongly in a lowest cost scenario, easiest to deploy at speed and is absolutely essential in a ‘green’ energy portfolio.
It is vital that the UK continues to support investment in onshore and offshore wind, to keep costs down and ensure the UK has a range of technologies available to keep the lights on. With the future of nuclear and CCS uncertain and biomass power stations already outstripping sustainable feedstock supplies, it would be crazy to take wind power out of the future of the energy mix.
It would be great to get your view on this, do you think wind power is necessary to meeting our climate targets?
The Guardian has published an article on the effects of windfarms on birds that despite a slightly unfortunate headline presents an excellent overview of recently published research by the RSPB (see the full research paper.)
The study focused on upland windfarm sites in Scotland and the North of England, and shows that windfarms can have some quite different impacts on some of the species that occur on these sites, particularly during construction. For example, the study found that populations of skylark and stonechat increased but populations of snipe and curlew reduced during windfarm construction. It was also found that, while populations of some species recovered after construction, others – particularly Curlew - did not seem to recover during the study period.
The study provides further evidence to highlight the importance of siting windfarms away from sites with sensitive species. RSPB will continue to work with the windfarm industry and the UK authorities to ensure that renewable energy, including windfarms, can be developed without harming the UK’s wildlife. Our experience shows that, through careful siting and design and good construction practice, windfarms can be developed without causing significant conservation concerns.
So, I took last week to explain the RSPB’s position on wind energy, its importance in our efforts to tackle climate change, potential impact on birds and wildlife as well as addressing the issue of cost and efficiency.
And now I have an announcement. We are, today, unveiling plans to build a wind turbine at our UK headquarters in Sandy, Bedfordshire.
As one of the UK’s leading environmental organisations, we’re working hard to reduce our own carbon emissions. In line with the Climate Change Act I mentioned earlier in the week, we have our own targets and plan to reduce our carbon footprint by 80% by 2050.
And this project is a massive step towards achieving that target. In fact, the proposed turbine will generate around two thirds of the RSPB’s electricity needs across all of our UK operations.
We are working in partnership with green energy company, Ecotricity and together will shortly be submitting a planning application for a meteorological mast to be erected close to The Lodge nature reserve.
This is the first official step in determining if this site is suitable for a wind turbine but as I'm sure you can imagine, we would not be considering this proposal if we thought it would cause harm to the wildlife of our nature reserve or local area. We have spent the past two years undertaking breeding and wintering bird surveys and continue to survey bat populations.
What next?Well, if the site is found to be suitable, the proposed wind turbine will be erected, at the earliest, in autumn 2013. If environmental impacts that cannot be mitigated for are discovered however, the project will not be progressed.
As outlined the project is still in its feasibility stage and consequently, we will be gathering new information over the coming months. Visit our website to find out more - including details of drop in sessions that you might be interested in attending, particularly if you live locally - and to stay abreast of news around this exciting project.
Please do feel free to ask questions below or alternatively, email firstname.lastname@example.org.